Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, chiming in to support President Donald Trump's new focus on the economy over fierce warnings from public health officials, suggested on Fox News on Monday night that he would rather die from the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus than see instability in the American economic system.
"No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?' And if that's the exchange, I'm all in," he said. "And that doesn't make me noble or brave or anything like that.
"I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me ... that what we all care about and what we all love more than anything are those children," he added. "And I want to, you know, live smart and see through this, but I don't want to see the whole country to be sacrificed, and that's what I see."
Patrick is 69, an age that statistically puts him at a higher risk for fatal consequences from the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that people with lung disease, asthma, heart issues, compromised immune systems, obesity, diabetes and liver disease are also at a higher risk of severe complications from the virus. Trump administration officials have also pressed younger Americans to take the virus seriously.
Patrick's point of view is directly at odds with the messaging of many public health officials, most prominently Trump administration official Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is one of the chief public advocates for social distancing.
Fauci and others have spent the last several weeks pleading with Americans to stay at home as much as possible and to avoid social interaction as a means to slow the contagion. The aim is to give hospitals time, space and supplies to treat what is becoming an overwhelming influx of patients afflicted with the virus.
It is a divide that is pitting public health officials, who are desperately begging Americans to stay in their homes and therefore avoid spreading the virus, with some of the voices in American politics and business, including former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
In the last month, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has plunged over 9,000 points, and public officials are bracing for a brutal jump in the nation's unemployment rate as business owners are forced to close up shop and lay off staffers.
Patrick argued that he was not alone in this line of thinking.
"I've talked to hundreds of people ... and just in the last week, and making calls all the time and everyone says the pretty much the same thing, that we can't lose our whole country. We are having an economic collapse," Patrick added. "I'm also a small businessman. I understand it."
The sentiment matches a push by Trump that began Sunday night and went into a Monday evening news conference in which the president argued the proposed cure — meaning a shutdown of American society and the economy — was worse than the disease.
"My heart is lifted tonight by what I heard the president say because we can do more than one thing at a time," Patrick said. "We can do two things. So you know, my message is that: Let's get back to work. Let's get back to living. Let's be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we'll take care of ourselves, but don't sacrifice the country. Don't do that. Don't ruin this great American dream."
Even as Patrick made those comments, mayors of most of Texas' largest cities heeded the calls of most scientists, doctors and other health care professionals. One by one, beginning Sunday and moving into Tuesday, many Texas mayors ordered or were in the process of ordering their cities' residents to stay home.
Texas Democrats responded to the comments on Tuesday.
“Republicans are not here to protect you or your family,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “The only thing they are concerned about is enriching themselves and their stock portfolios. They would see our family members die to bail out Wall Street.”
“Texas Democrats believe healthcare is a human right,” he added. “The lives of our families, our friends, and our communities have no dollar amount.”
At the end of the Fox interview, host Tucker Carlson repeated his interpretation of Patrick's argument: "You're basically saying that this disease could take your life, but that's not the scariest thing to you, there's something worse than dying?"
To which Patrick answered in the affirmative: "Yeah."
Emma Platoff contributed to this report.